Mayor de Blasio of Elmhurst Hospital (Photo: Ed Reed / Mayoral Photography Office)
A recent study published by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Protection had a grim conclusion: As the pandemic engulfed the city last spring, 30% of patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 eventually died. . The results confirmed the images New Yorkers have grown accustomed to seeing – of mobile mortuaries and patients struggling to survive in the hallways.
The problem was particularly acute in my hometown of Queens, where there are only 1.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people, compared to five beds per 1,000 in Manhattan. Elmhurst Hospital and Northwell Forest Hills have become national symbols of covid severity, with Elmhurst having suffered 13 deaths in 24 hours at the height of the pandemic, while Northwell Forest Hills experienced 17 deaths in 24 hours. It is totally unacceptable.
Even in Manhattan, the situation became so dire that a field hospital in Central Park was erected. Dying New Yorkers were directed to tents for treatment on the cold early spring evenings.
This temporary facility was built by the Reverend Franklin Graham, an anti-LGBTQ activist. It added insult to injury to a city that was not taking care of its own. And it was especially hard for New Yorkers to take on one of the city’s other major health crises, the HIV / AIDS epidemic.
For me, it was a horrific and unexpected combination of my work as a Queens-based LGBTQ organizer and health activist. He clearly showed that it is impossible to separate the medical from the social and the scientific from the political.
In fact, at the height of the AIDS crisis in New York City, I saw a generation of friends and neighbors die because of the indifference of too many people in power. One of my closest friends who walked me through the difficult exit process eventually died of AIDS.
We were not prepared for the scale of the crisis then, just as we were for this pandemic. But just because Covid wasn’t expected, doesn’t mean New York must have lost over 20,000 plus lives.
In Queens alone, ten hospitals have been closed over the past 20 years as a giveaway to the real estate industry. A similar dynamic unfolded in Manhattan with St. Vincent Hospital, which was one of the few facilities to treat people living with HIV and AIDS with dignity.
The idea was that the city had excess capacity and that there was a need to focus more on preventing the root causes of hospitalizations. Ownership of the hospital could then be reallocated by real estate developers. It was a big mistake.
And while it is laudable to focus on preventive medicine, the city has failed on this point as well. Black and Hispanic residents, as well as vulnerable elderly New Yorkers of all races and ethnicities, have been hit hardest by this virus.
One of the main reasons I am running for New York City Council is to pass legislation to increase hospital capacity and implement health care impact assessments for every health care proposal. zoning and land use that requires council approval. We need to understand how new development affects access to health care before we build some big projects.
This work will also involve the creation of a Hospital Capacity Working Group to Rebuild healthcare facilities across our city, with a focus on Central and South East Queens. We need to ensure that whatever capital allocations are made to quickly build additional hospital beds so that all communities are safer in the future with close access to healthcare. world-class emergency.
With the number of sickness cases on the rise and hospitals facing a possible bed shortage, we need to take this moment to think about what we want the city’s healthcare system to look like in the future. Hospital beds might not be something the average New Yorker thinks about on a daily basis, but with the inevitable future public health emergencies to come, we can’t let our own political decisions be our biggest obstacle to the future. recovery. For many of us, it’s a matter of life and death.
Lynn Schulman is a Democratic candidate for the New York City Council in District 29 of Queens. On Twitter @ schulman2021.